Maine high schoolers tour Sappi Technology Center

WESTBROOK, Maine — A group of high school juniors and seniors went behind the scenes to watch the paper-making process on Thursday. 

South Portland High School junior Ian House admits he had no idea what was required to turn wood into paper.

“I thought they just took a tree, sliced it up thin, and started writing on it,” House sheepishly said.

After touring Sappi’s Technology Center in Westbrook, he and about 40 other students from five different high schools now have a much better understanding. This is where technicians, engineers, and scientists discover ways to implement new paper products and improve paper quality and product cost.

Senior Project Manager Ben Conner showed students state-of-the-art coaters that create prototypes for coated packaging, fine papers, and specialty papers that could be used in the manufacturing process at Sappi’s Somerset Mill in Skowhegan.

“We run production speeds, we run production temperatures and pressures, and we can mimic the environment of the paper mill,” Conner explained.

In the print test lab, engineers test the properties that make paper products glossy, firm, or grease-resistant. Students also saw multiple images taken by a high-powered microscope that uses electrons to magnify wood fibers. Technology left a big impression on these students who are considering the engineering field.

“I liked being able to see, like, all the fibers and all the things that go inside the paper,” Jacky Yu, a junior at South Portland High School, said.

“It surprised me how much work they put into it and how much everything impacts the paper,” Aspenelle De Los Reyes, a junior at Gorham High School, admitted.

The tour is one of several for students at paper-making facilities throughout the state. The tours are organized by the nonprofit University of Maine Pulp and Paper Foundation, which offers full and partial scholarships to students entering the university’s College of Engineering interested in careers in the paper industry.

“We award scholarships of nearly one million dollars each year to undergraduates,” enthused Carrie Enos, the president of the UMaine Pulp and Paper Foundation.

Conner, a pulp and paper scholar who attended Bonny Eagle High School, graduated from UMaine debt-free.

“I did my internship here at the tech center, which helped me start my career here,” Conner said.

Getting a first look at highly skilled jobs is an opportunity to plant new seeds about future careers in young minds.

“I think I could see myself going into an engineering field. I thought this tour was exciting,” House said.

For more information about UMaine Pulp and Paper Foundation scholarships, click here.


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